Ruth Rendell’s A Judgement in Stone: Book Review

Weekly Geeks asked participants to list books they have read but not reviewed and then invite others to ask questions about these books. The idea was to help us catch up on our reviews. I listed A Judgement in Stone by Ruth Rendell as one of those books and Sherrie who writes A View of My Life blog had a question for me. She asked as this is a modern mystery did it keep my attention through the whole book?  Well, it did – once I’d started I just had to keep on reading.

Ruth Rendell, Baroness Rendell of Babergh also writes under the pseudonym Barbara Vine. She writes traditional detective stories, mainspring novels and crime fiction concentrating on one character.

I’ve known of Ruth Rendell’s books for years and watched the TV versions of her Inspector Wexford books and other books too. But I don’t think I’ve ever read any of them before. As well as A Judgement in Stone I’ve also recently read The Birthday Present (Rendell writing as Barbara Vine). Both are quite disturbing books.

a-judgement-in-stoneA Judgement In Stone portrays Eunice an illiterate woman and a psychopath who does anything to stop anyone from finding out that she can’t read or write.  The opening sentences sets it out clearly:

Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write. There was no real motive and no premeditation; no money was gained and no security.

Her ingenuity and resourcefulness is amazing. She blackmails people and killed her father. I found the whole premise of such a damaged person apparently functioning normally in society scary.  She is employed by the Coverdales as their housekeeper and in the interests of having their house kept clean and tidy they tried to make her comfortable. But part of the problem was that they looked on her as little more than a machine, not as a person. They meant well, wanting to make other people happy, but they were interferers, they didn’t understand that

… selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live.

Things went from bad to worse when Eunice met Joan, who was completely unstable, in fact she was insane. Joan is a religious fanatic, a sinner who delights in telling people of her past sins and wanting them to seek God’s forgiveness.  Their friendship ends in tragedy.

Illiteracy is essential to the novel. I felt helpless whilst reading this, desperately wanting the Coverdales to realise Eunice’s problems, but they were blind to the fact that Eunice was illiterate and although they tried to prevent her meeting Joan they were unaware of the danger they were in.  This inflamed Eunice and pushed her into taking the actions she did.

Although Eunice’s crime is known right from the start, that does not detract from the suspense. It actually makes it worse – you know that the murder is going to happen and as  the reasons why it happens become clear, the tension builds relentlessly.

Library ChallengeNote: this is the 19th library book I’ve read this year qualifying for the Support Your Local Library Reading Challenge.

10 thoughts on “Ruth Rendell’s A Judgement in Stone: Book Review”

  1. Hi Margaret,
    I am definitely putting this book on my TBR list. It sounds great. You asked me about the book “With Malice Toward None” by Stephen B. Oates. I did know quite a bit about Lincoln before reading this book, but I have learned a lot more. It goes into detail about his early life, when he was a lawyer and a in the Illinois Legislature. I didn’t know too much about his marriage. This book fills in the gaps. I have just finished chapter three. It is full of info. I would highly recommend this book even if you already know about Lincoln’s life. It is full of personal stuff about his life before he became president. Thanks for mentioning me in this post. Thanks for stopping by my place. Have a great evening!

    Sherrie
    http://splummer-aviewofmylife.blogspot.com/2009/06/veggie-dip.html

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  2. Thanks for all your comments. It seems I’m not the only person who’s been meaning to read Rendell/Vine for a while. I’m glad I did.

    Dorothy, I think Ruth Rendell’s book would be good to discuss with a group – she raises lots of issues to discuss as well as setting out a mystery to solve.

    Sherrie, thanks for the info on “With Malice Toward None” about Lincoln – it sounds fascinating. There is a copy in my local library so I can borrow it.

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  3. I thought this was a clever story as well. I wasn’t sure how she would pull it off–knowing the outcome from the beginning, but she does. It just goes to show what an excellent writer she is!

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  4. I read this recently and found it to be fantastic. It is a credit to Rendell that we read on since we know from the outset who. She is a master of creating creepy psychological characters.

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